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Full text of "A story about a real man"

142

B. POLEVOI

her voice expressed grief and, perhaps, something else
besides. Meresyev opened his eyes. In the light of the
night-lamp that was shaded with a kerchief, he saw the
Commissar's pale, swollen face against the background
of his pillow, his kind, flashing eyes, and the soft,
feminine profile of the nurse. The light falling against
the back of her head made her soft, fair hair shine like
a halo, and Meresyev, although conscious that this was
not the right thing to do, could not tear his eyes away
from her.
"Now, now, little nurse, you mustn't cry! Shall we
give you some bromide?" said the Commissar, as if speak-
ing to a little girl.
'There! You are joking again! What an awful man
you are! It is monstrous, really monstrous to laugh when
one ought to cry, to soothe others when one's own body is
being rent with pain. My dear, dear good man, don't dare,
do you hear, don't dare behave like that any more!"
She lowered her head and wept silently. With sad,
kindly eyes the Commissar gazed at her thin, white-
robed, shuddering shoulders.
"It's too late, too late my dear," he said, "I have
always been scandalously late in my own private affairs.
I was always too busy with other things. And now, 1
think, I am too late altogether."
The Commissar sighed. The nurse raised her head and
looked at him with eyes filled with tears and eager
expectation. He smiled, sighed again and, in his custom-
ary kindly and slightly jocular tone, continued:
"Listen to this story, my clever little girl. I have
just remembered it. It happened a long time ago, during
the Civil War, in Turkestan. Yes. A cavalry squadron
went in such hot pursuit of the Basmachi that before long
it found itself in a desert, so wild that the horses dropped
dead, one after another. They were Russian horses and
not used to the sandy desert. So from cavalry we were
converted into infantry. The Squadron Commander de-
cided to abandon all baggage and, carrying nothing but
weapons, make for the nearest big city. It was a hundred
and sixty kilometres away, and we had to march across
bare sand. Can you picture it, little girl? We marched
one day, two days, three days. The sun was scorching